Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Face-Lift 1180

Guess the Plot

The Queen of Steel and Fire

1. Once again the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance, and once again it's up to a sixteen-year-old girl to save us all. This time her name is Claire, but by the time it's all over you'll be calling her . . . The Queen of Steel and Fire.

2. Karoleena is stuck making a costume out of dusty feathers and fast food wrappers because the other queens have taken all the fun props. But wait, the construction site across the street has a burning torch and pieces of steel no one needs. Karoleena is going to rule the catwalk.

3. Fierce, independent Catherine Mc Bride has inherited her father's railroad and awesome power. Handsome, crafty Roger Boline has a stake in coal and admires her caboose. Will they be able to join forces against the sinister trestle cartel, or will their lives be a trainwreck?

4. Forced to marry the aging King Trunglow, Princess Letitia is furious. Vowing to never bear an heir, she flees to the edges of her new kingdom. When her erstwhile husband and her distraught father are slain attempting to find her, the recalcitrant bride accepts her new reign. Odd how any job is more tolerable if you aren't married to a geezer.

5. Alexander "Alex" Owens, a welder at a Pittsburgh steel mill who lives with his dog Gigi in a converted whorehouse, works nights at Mawby's Bar and Grille which holds a nightly burlesque. It's a plum gig--until the night three of his coworkers accidentally drop in.

6. Queenie Flourtnoy is Fire Robinson’s blues singer until she falls for Steel Sanders and sings for his bluegrass band. Fire is furious and says “I’ll kill ‘em both”. Then cops find Queenie decapitated and Steel with a .40 cal bullet in his heart. Hot detective Mary McRae is determined to nail Fire this time. Will she get Fire or will she be singing the defeated detective blues?

Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

Your agency’s representation of many fresh works with strong female protagonists is one of the primary reasons that I am writing to you. I’ve also followed your blog for several years, and I’ve always found your advice and insights very helpful and interesting. [It's a fine line between flattery and sucking up. The thicker you lay it on, the closer to the end of the query you should put it.] As I see that you accept fantasy queries, and that you currently represent several writers in the young adult fantasy genre, [If you're talking about the same material you called "fresh works" in sentence 1, let's move on. Opening with a whole paragraph about why you chose to write to this person would be called burying the lead if you were a newspaper reporter.] [If the job "newspaper reporter" still existed.] I would like to submit my novel, The Queen of Steel and Fire, for your consideration.

After her father’s sudden death, sixteen year old princess Claire Erinn is about to become the first female ruler of Keldaren. But when Claire learns that the king was poisoned, she begins to unravel the vast conspiracy closing in around her. [At this point I would expect her to "suspect" the conspiracy rather than to "unravel" it.] After Death herself attacks Claire during an assassination attempt, [Who is attempting to assassinate whom?] enemies begin to arise on all fronts…even from within her own family. [If both Death and someone else were attempting to kill Claire at the same time, I'm wondering how she's still alive. They wouldn't call Death Death if she screwed up her missions.] Unprepared to rule, Claire must fight to save both her kingdom and her life. When war erupts, the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance, as Claire’s enemies turn to sorcery, and the dark power behind the conspiracy is unveiled. [When the fate of the world hangs in the balance, there's gotta be a better hope than a sixteen-year-old who isn't even prepared to rule one lousy kingdom.]

The Queen of Steel and Fire is the first volume of a planned series. Although this is the first novel that I have written, I have previously written short stories, some of which have been published in The Peninsula Pulse, a local news and literary magazine. The manuscript is complete and is 96,000 words. May I send you sample pages for review? Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.



I would drop the whole first paragraph. The last paragraph can do without the second sentence, and you can drop any two of the last three sentences.

That leaves the plot paragraph,which would be okay if this were the voice-over of a five-sentence movie trailer or the back cover copy, but I would like more information. How does this teenager plan to defeat conspirators, sorcerers, a "dark power," and Death herself? The Fantastic Four couldn't win this battle.

What do all these enemies want? To rule Keldaren? How can the fate of the entire world depend on whether Claire Erinn, who isn't prepared to rule, rules Keldaren? Why doesn't she go hang out at the mall and let everyone else fight it out? Perhaps if we know why Keldaren is so special, and if you reveal who's behind the conspiracy and what super powers Claire possesses . . .

The title suggests the steampunk genre. Or does steampunk have to be iron instead of steel? In any case, if Claire has a magic sword that shoots fire, say so.


Veronica Rundell said...

HI author,
Perhaps dispense with the grandiose statements and give us a feel for this world, and Claire's role within it.

Where's the Queen?

How can Clueless Claire suddenly morph into super sleuth ass-kissing world saving Claire?

Who helps our stalwart heroine?

Just some thoughts...
Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the suggestions, and thank Evil Editor for accepting my query for critiquing! I'm working on a new draft of the letter, incorporating these suggestions. Does anyone know what the wait time is before I'm allowed to re-submit for another critique? Thanks again!

Evil Editor said...

There's no designated wait time. Whenever you feel you've made it perfect, submit as a comment to this post and I'll alert others that it's there.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to point out sentence structure for your plot paragraph is very similar for all sentences:

After her...Claire
But when Claire
After Death...Claire
Unprepared to...Claire
When war...

I might be the only one it bothers. If not, you might want to break it up some

CavalierdeNuit said...

This feels very thin to me. I think you should answer EE's questions by sitting down and writing the answers. Take 2 plus hours to ponder everything. This will help you a lot with the query. Make sure whatever you change in the query is also reflected in the book.

Also, ask yourself: what are hoping to achieve with this? How can you fill a niche or rework this genre? I think that nothing new ever gets written, just rewritten in a fresh and stimulating way.

K Hutton said...

You also mention that Claire is about to become "the first female ruler" of her country, but then this doesn't come up again. Are breaking traditional gender roles (or transforming them) a big theme in the book? If so, I'd show that in the query; if not, don't mention being the first female ruler. Everything single detail in the query has to be crucial to shaping the whole novel. If it's only important for that scene or those first few chapters, save those for the synopsis.

I would also echo EE's comments that you should emphasize what you deem are the most unique and fresh aspects to your story. Maybe that's Claire struggle with a personified Death as the antagonist? Saving a kingdom along the way is almost required for the genre.

Good luck!

Steve said...

Thank you to everyone who's commented, and thanks EE for advising when I can re-submit. When I started writing this query, I had thought that the plot summary was supposed to be more of the back of the book variety. I've learned now that it should be much more in depth.

I'm writing out the answers to the questions posed by EE and the reviews here...and address them in the next draft of the query.

Her being the first female ruler does play a big role in the story, but it's one of many major elements of the story, so it can probably be left out of the query. Thank you so much for the feedback! Hopefully my next draft will be closer to the mark.

Steve said...

Per your instructions, Evil Editor, I am submitting my revised query.

Dear Evil Editor,

With her father murdered, and her brother locked away as a lunatic, sixteen-year-old Claire Erinn inherits a kingdom in turmoil. Her nation slips toward the brink of war as an enemy kingdom threatens their borders. Unprepared to rule, Claire must act like a strong queen if she hopes to last long enough to become one.

Minerva, queen of the enemy kingdom, sends assassins to attack her. Claire has to learn to defend herself—and her kingdom. She undergoes training to become a knight, forging herself into the warrior and leader that her country needs.

Earning her knighthood, Claire gains the confidence to lead an invasion against Minerva. Determined to prove herself as queen, Claire personally hunts down Minerva. When the two queens meet, Claire is horrified to find Jared, her half-mad brother, at Minerva’s side.

With Jared standing between her and Minerva, Claire’s choice seems clear. But she can’t bring herself to kill her own brother—even after he’s turned against her. Claire comes up with a desperate plan to rescue both her kingdom and Jared from Minerva’s clutches. To save her brother, though, Claire may have to sacrifice herself.

THE RISE OF THE QUEEN is a 96,000 word fantasy novel. Thank you for your time and consideration.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I think this query is neat and clear-cut now. I don't see the fantasy element, however.

K Hutton said...

I agree this is definitely an improvement, but the knighthood subplot threw me a little because of timelines. Wouldn't it take years to build up the skills (let alone bodily strength) to be a succesful warrior?

Now, if Claire had already been training as a knight and becoming queen gave her the impetus to speed things up and write the Final Knighthood Exam early, I would understand that.

I have to admit, I would still worry a bit about distinguishing your save-the-kingdom fantasy from other hopeful manuscripts, but maybe someone else with more expertise in this genre could comment on that.

Good luck!

Evil Editor said...

Possibly you removed the sorcery and Death herself from the query so that we'd be less skeptical about Claire's ability to succeed. I suppose training as a knight could give Claire the edge she needs to defeat Minerva and her army. But as AKRC suggests, if the fantastical elements are a major part of the story, and you describe it as historical fiction set in medieval times, you may attract the wrong agent.

Does Claire have any "special" talent? If not, is she a prodigy in military tactics? Does she have a team of sorcerers on her side? Tell us something about her that gives us hope she can triumph.

PLaF said...

As currently presented, the story is about Claire becoming a knight. And, there’s no personal conflict until Jared shows up.
Aside from the obvious “save the kingdom” stakes, what are her personal struggles?
Does Claire want to train as a knight? How does that help her to become queen?
Does she want to be queen?
Does she even like her crazy brother?
If not, then it doesn’t matter if Minerva wants the kingdom.

K Hutton said...

You're also using the same sentence structure over and over again:

With her father murdered, Claire inherits...
Unprepared to rule, Claire must...
Earning her knighthood, Claire gains...
Determined to prove herself, Claire hunts down...


Honestly, this is a habit I fall into a lot myself (Hello, my name is Kelsey and I'm a dependent-clause-aholic) but RESIST! There are more syntactical options out there!

Have fun with it.

Steve said...

Thanks to everyone for the excellent advice. I'm glad to hear it's getting better, even if it seems like it's getting more confusing to readers in some ways. Back to working on the next draft! Thanks again for the feedback, I really appreciate it!

SB said...

I'm a little confused about the knight thing. Typically, training to be a knight would, I think, happen before a person becomes ruler. And then how does she earn her knighthood when it's the monarch who generally (even unilaterally) decides who gets to be a knight. Earning the title of knight doesn't mean much if you give it to yourself.

Not to mention, if she's the first female rulers, are there female knights? Is this a normal thing for women to do? If not, why does she do it?

And if she's the ruler who's attacked/threatened by a neighboring kingdom (or queendom), it doesn't seem like the responsible reaction would be to immediately enter training (that, as someone else pointed out, should take years) but to put her mind to tactics to use her knights and army. It seems kind of foolish of her to think that, as a woman having no training (as far as we know), the way to fight the enemy is to personally do it with her own sword rather than trust the groups of specially-trained warriors that she (I assume) has for this exact purpose.